FRANKFURT (Reuters) - French buyout group Ardian has emerged as the leading bidder for a stake in EWE [LANDWE.UL], as the German regional utility’s search for a new anchor investor is nearing the finishing line, two people close to the matter said.
EWE is currently presenting only Ardian’s proposal to its municipal shareholders and could announce that it is entering exclusive talks with the French group in the coming days, the people added.
Ardian prevailed against a tie-up of German insurer Allianz (ALVG.DE) and Australian infrastructure investor Macquarie (MQG.AX), which had been seen as the likely winner of the auction due to their track record in energy deals, they said.
Final offers for a 26% stake in EWE with an expected price tag of 1.2-1.4 billion euros ($1.3-1.6 billion) were submitted at the end of September. Bidders were attracted by stable returns from regulated power grids that utilities offer.
Ardian, Allianz and Macquarie all declined to comment.
EWE declined to comment on whether Ardian was in the lead. “We are sticking to our schedule and are holding talks with several bidders this month and are confident that we can achieve a good outcome as planned,” it said in a statement.
EWE, which is active in northwestern Germany, has said it wants to decide on a new anchor shareholder this year. The group’s supervisory board is planning to confirm its choice in a meeting early next month, one of the people said.
The group has been looking for a new anchor shareholder since German rival EnBW (EBKG.DE) agreed to pull out in 2015 as part of an asset swap in which EWE sold its majority stake in gas firm VNG [VNG.UL].
Reporting by Arno Schuetze and Christoph Steitz; Editing by Michelle Martin